California Pinot is every bit as good as Burgundy

Pinot Noir harvest time at Pisoni

Pinot noir is widely considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, but is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine. The grape on the vine is highly susceptible to several ailments and once in the bottle, it is known for temperamental and unpredictable aging. The grape is most commonly associated with the Burgundy region of France where it had historically seen the greatest success, but today can be found in vineyards throughout the world.

California Pinot Noir surged in the early 2000’s, and today it is the 5th most widely planted grape in the state. It does best in cooler areas so the coastal wine regions are where you’ll find most of the plantings.

The Anderson Valley AVA is the coldest in the state, and it has become a hotbed for Pinot Noir, with newer artisan producers such as Waits Mast 100% dedicated to this fickle, nuanced grape. A ten-mile stretch with varied alluvial soil that runs north to south just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, the fog spills into the valley, blanketing the hillside vineyards with cool air in the morning. Later, the sun breaks through in the afternoon, ensuring enough heat for ripeness but the wines are often light with vivacious acidity. The Waits Mast 2012 “Deer Meadows” Pinot Noir out of Mendocino received 95 points from Wine Spectator and is a beautiful example of this appellation.

The Sonoma Coast has also become a major player in the world of Pinot Noir. Most wineries just purchase fruit from the area yet Alma Fria 2013 Dona Margarita Pinot Noir and a hand full of others are based here. Like the Anderson Valley, it benefits from cold, foggy mornings with afternoon sun. It is also windy so, while the Anderson Valley has days when the temperature climbs into the 80’s and 90’s, the Sonoma Coast rarely gets that warm.

Coho winemaker Phil Titus

inspecting this year’s Pinot Noir

The Russian River, however, became known as a top area for Pinot Noir in the state with Williams Selyem attracting worldwide attention. There are now a host of small, boutique wineries including DuMol and Walter Hansel (see their multiple 93 Point 2013 Pinots), making waves of their own. Encompassing Chalk Hill in the east and the Green Valley in the West, it too benefits from ocean fog that rolls onto the vineyards in the afternoon. With clay based alluvial soil, the wines typically have more body than those from the Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast.

Carneros, an AVA that is shared by both Napa and Sonoma, is not as cool but still gets enough wind from the San Francisco Bay on its southern border to make Pinot Noir with firm acidity. The soil is predominantly clay. There is often a marked difference between Carneros Pinot Noir and those made further north in the Anderson Valley and Sonoma, with the former often having more body and cherry fruit. Even though Carneros is a well-established and expensive area for Pinot Noir, it continues to attract burgeoning producers such as B Kosuge and Coho Wines who buy grapes from numerous vineyards.

Paul Lato has crafted several

amazing Pinot Noirs

Of course the Central Coast has become very well known for its Pinot Noir, with pioneers such as Mount Eden (their 2013 Estate Pinot Noir received 94+ Points from Galloni) helping to lead the charge in the early 80’s. From the Santa Cruz Mountains to Santa Barbara County, ocean fog and breeze cool keep the temperatures down. There is also a preponderance of limestone, adding mineral notes to many of the wines. Over the last decade smaller appellations within the Central Coast have captured the attention of up and coming winemakers such as  Paul Lato, who makes wines from the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Lucia Highlands.

This is just a snapshot of the variety of California’s Pinot Noir growing appellations. It is amazing how on one hand this grape has flourished and taken over so many regions yet on the other, the areas where it first received acclaim, especially Anderson Valley and Santa Barbara County, continue to set the standard.

If you have any questions about the many California Pinot Noirs, as always, I am available to answer your inquiries. Please don’t hesitate to call or reach out! My contact info is at the bottom of this email.

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